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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Anthroposophical Spiritual Science and Medical Therapy
GA 313

Lecture I

Dornach, April 11, 1921

With this course I hope to supplement last year's course, so that it will really complement it and result, at the end, in the crystallization of a variety of views on therapeutics. I will try to look from another vantage point at the human being who is ill and needs to be healed. By studying these matters from another angle we will not merely gain fresh viewpoints, but at the same time we will extend the subject matter of our studies. This time I would like to show how the constitution of the human being—physical body, etheric body, and so on, with which you as anthroposophists are all familiar—is active in the processes of becoming ill and healing. Last time I had to confine myself more to describing the outer manifestation of the inner human being. This time I will try to show how the different members of man are influenced by substances outside the human being. I will try to show what these substances really are that can be used as remedies, and to show how a remedy can be effective by influencing the human organism in a different way from the merely material.

At this point in my introduction, however, I must make the following presupposition. Last time we spoke here, we dealt with the same subject, considering from different aspects the use of substances—and in general what is physical—as remedies. But as soon as we have to go further and consider the higher members of human nature, the super-sensible members of the human being, we can no longer speak about substances in the same way. We often do so for the sake of brevity, but throughout this presentation we must bear in mind a fundamental fact: we must be quite clear that we cannot proceed from what is material in the way customary in current science if we really wish to understand man's relation to his environment and what happens to him in health and illness. We must begin from processes, not substances, from events in progress, not finished products. And when we speak about substance, we must picture that the substance appearing in the outer world to our senses is nothing more than a process come to rest.

Let us say we are looking at siliceous earth. We call it a substance. But we have not grasped what is essential if we merely form a mental picture of this so-called object with certain borders. We grasp what is essential only if we take into account the very comprehensive process that exists as an individual process taking place in the entire universe. This process then crystallizes out, as it were; it comes to rest, attains a kind of equilibrium, manifesting then as what we behold as siliceous earth (sandstone). It is essential to focus our attention on the interaction between processes within the human being and processes that unfold outside in the universe, for both in health and illness the human being stands in continuous interaction with the universe.

I would like to present to you in an introductory way something that can lead us to some thoughts about this interaction. We will then be able to begin tomorrow on our actual subject matter. First we must try to grasp man's essential nature by means of an anthroposophical spiritual science. I have often spoken of the threefold nature of the human being. Today I will at first express myself schematically, directing attention to the way this threefold nature is concentrated spatially within the human being. When we distinguish the nerve-sense system, we know that it is chiefly concentrated in the head but that it nevertheless extends throughout the human being. Only in his head is the human being first and foremost a nerve-sense being, but on the other hand the entire human being is also “head,” though less “head” in the remainder of his organism than in the head itself. Thus we can think of what we call the “nerve-sense man” as localized in the head.

If we are to make these thoughts of the threefold nature of the human being fruitful for our present purpose, we must then think of the “rhythmic man” (which encompasses the breathing and circulation) as twofold, one member tending more toward the respiratory system and the other more toward the circulatory system. Inserting itself into the circulatory system is then everything involved in connecting the “limb man” with that of the “metabolic man.”

In studying the human head, we are looking at the member of the human organism that corresponds primarily to the nerve-sense man. The organization of the head differs essentially from that of man's other members. This is also the case with regard to the higher members of the human being. If we study the human head from the viewpoint of spiritual science, we see this head as a kind of imprint—one might say a kind of extrusion—of the ego, astral body, and etheric body.

We must then still consider the physical body in its relation to the head. This physical body is present in the head in a different way, you could say, from the physical element that is an imprint of the ego, astral body, and etheric body. At this point let me emphasize the higher aspect of this by pointing out that the human head, as it manifests itself at first in the human embryo, is not shaped merely by the forces of the parental organism; cosmic forces are at work in the human head. Cosmic forces are working into the human being. In the forces we call etheric, the parental organism is active to a high degree, but even in the etheric, cosmic forces are acting out of the soul-spiritual life before birth, or rather before conception. What was living in the spiritual world before conception continues to work, especially in the astral body and the ego; it continues its work, forming the human head. The ego conveys its imprint onto the human head, and the astral and etheric bodies both convey their physical imprints. The physical body alone, which of course we receive only on earth, is not an imprint but a prime agent (ein Primär Wirksames).

Thus I can say—sketching this schematically—that the form of the human head is an imprint of the ego. The ego organizes itself within the head in a definite way. At first it organizes itself primarily by differentiating the warmth conditions within the head. The astral body's influence is more remote, its organizing principle is contained in the gaseous, airy processes that permeate the head (see drawing). Then the etheric body imprints itself, and finally we have what is the physical body for the head—a physical process, a real physical process (see drawing, hatching). I will indicate this by pointing to the bony portion of the back of the skull if the eyes are here (see drawing). But the physical forces concentrated here extend over the whole head. Here, in this physical part of the human head formation, is a real, primary physical process. It is not an expression of anything else, but is present as a process carried out in itself.

Figure 1

In this physical head process, however, we really have a duality, a cooperation of two processes. It is a cooperation of two processes that can be understood only if the spiritual investigator studies them in relation to certain other processes taking place outside in the universe. Look outside in the universe at the process in the ancient rocks that finds expression in slate-formation, especially out of siliceous earth. There you have a process diametrically opposed to the physical process at work in the formation of the head. We see here an important connection between the human being and his environment. This process that unfolds in the mineralizing process is also present within the human head. Today it is almost clear to geologists that every process of slate-formation, every mineralizing process in which silica takes part, is connected with what one may call the “de-vegetabilization of vegetable substance” (Entvegetabilisierung). In slate-formation we must see a plant world that has become mineral. And in trying to understand this kind of de-vegetabilization of the vegetable kingdom, which is especially significant in the earth's slate-formation, we learn to grasp the polar process at work in a different way in the human head.

Another process cooperates with this process, however, and this other process must also be sought outside in the world. We must look for it in limestone rocks, for example. Today it is almost a geological truth for outer science that chalk formations are essentially the result of a process of earth formation that we might call the “de-animalization process of animal substance” (Entanimalisierung). It is the opposite process to animal evolution. Again the polar opposite process to this is at work within us. If we ascribe to silica and calcium—which are processes come to rest—a role in the formation of the physical human head, we must realize that something that plays a very significant part outside in the cosmos, at least in the entire nature of our earth, thereby works upon this physical human head formation. At the same time we are able, by way of preparation in orienting, to understand that when we look at silica or silicon, we see its essential kinship to the process taking place in the physical head (when I speak of silica here, I mean the arrested process); when we look at the process of chalk-formation that has come to rest in limestone, we see that it has something to do with its polar opposite, with the other force that cooperates polarically in the human physical head.

In the human head, these processes that we can find around us today stand in connection with other processes not to be found on the earth but seen only in imprint, the head being an imprint of the etheric body, astral body, and ego. Regarding these members of human nature we have to do with arrested processes that are not directly earth processes. Only what I have described when speaking about the actual physical head is really an earth process in the human being. The other processes are not actual earth processes, although we will find their connection with the earth processes, as you will see.

We will now pass on to consider the second member of the human organism, in order to have a kind of overview. In trying to localize it in space, we may call it roughly the chest system. It is the member in the human organism essentially comprising the rhythmic man, and we will divide it schematically into a system of respiratory rhythm and a system of circulatory rhythm. Examining this second member of man's being as a whole, we must say that everything I have designated here (see drawing) as the organization of respiratory rhythm in the widest sense is mainly an imprint of the ego and astral body. Just as the head is an imprint of the ego, astral body, and etheric body, so the respiratory rhythm is an imprint of the ego and astral body. It has something primarily active in itself, (see drawing, hatching), with the cooperation of physical body and etheric body.

Figure 2

In the human head only the physical body is active in itself; as we have seen, there even the etheric body is an imprint. In the system of respiratory rhythm, the prime agent is constituted by the interpenetration and cooperation of the physical and etheric bodies, and only the ego and astral body provide the imprint. This applies essentially also to the system of the circulatory rhythm, but to a lesser degree, for the entire metabolic organism inserts itself into the circulatory system. Thus in the circulation, the characteristics of the metabolic-limb system already begin to be evident. The limbs then, with everything that projects into them as metabolism—with the exception of the actual circulation—are in essence an imprint of the ego and a cooperation of the physical, etheric, and astral bodies (see drawing).

Thus, if we study the chest man we find as its imprint-organization only what is related to the ego and astral body, and we find that its primary organization is not merely physical but is the physical permeated by the etheric. This is more strongly the case with the respiratory rhythm, whereas in the case of the circulatory organism, another element from the metabolic system inserts itself.

Figure 3

You see, then, that the different members of the human being interact in different ways. Corresponding to the various physical members that we can call “head system,” “chest system,” and “limb system,” there are different interactions of the members that spiritual science calls physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego. The human head, regarded as a process, is essentially physical body, for what is not physical body there is an imprint of the ego, astral body, and etheric body. The middle realm of the human being is essentially a cooperation between physical body and etheric body, for what is not physical body and etheric body is an imprint of the ego and astral body. And the metabolic-limb man is entirely an interplay of physical, etheric, and astral bodies and an imprint only of the ego. The chest man and the metabolic-limb man overlap more, however. (See drawing on page 7.)

Now we must focus our attention on the part played in the middle system by the process working in the organization of the physical head, and which we had to regard as a process having come to rest in siliceous earth. The curious thing is that this process of siliceous earth formation works more strongly and extensively in the middle system. In the head it works more delicately. Here in the middle system it works more strongly, more extensively, and in a more differentiated way. And it works most strongly in the metabolic-limb man. In focusing our attention on the process we found connected with siliceous earth, we find that it works most strongly where it has to come to the help of the ego, where it has to support the action of the independent ego that has only its imprint in the physical metabolic system. This silica-producing process works most strongly where it has to support the action of the ego on the metabolic-limb man. It works less strongly where it merely has to help the astral body; and it works least strongly of all where it needs to help only the etheric body, i.e., in the head.

We might put this the other way around. Regarding this process which we consider as arrested in silica, we can say that in the human head organization it works most strongly as substance and least strongly as force. Here, where it works least strongly as force, it works most strongly as it approaches the point where it comes to rest in substance. If we regard silica as the substance lying before us, we have to say that its action is strongest in the head. If we regard it as the outward indication of a process, we have to say that its weakest action is in the head. Where the activity as substance is strongest, the dynamic activity is weakest. In the middle system, the two activities of silica as substance and as force are approximately balanced. Regarding the metabolic-limb system, the dynamic action gets the upper hand. We have here the weakest action as substance and the strongest as force. Thus the silica-producing process actually organizes the entire human being through and through. Now that we have inquired into the relationship between the physical organization of the head and the outer environment that has a reciprocal relationship with the human being, we may inquire into the reciprocal relationship of the middle system to the outer environment, insofar as the organization of respiratory rhythm is concerned.

If the spiritual investigator studying the human head really wishes to understand it, he must turn his gaze to two processes at work in the formation of the earth: not only that which forms silica or silicic acid but also the limestone-forming process. We will examine this more closely later.

The organization for the rhythmic respiratory system is less external, less peripheral, lying more toward the inside of the human body. And insofar as it consists of a cooperation, primarily a cooperation of the physical and etheric as they interweave themselves with the imprints of the ego and astral, it does not point us directly to something in the environment, to a process that exists already in nature and that we can encounter there. If we are looking for a characteristic process in the outer world to correspond with this whole interaction, we must first create it ourselves. If we burn plant substances and obtain plant ash, then the process manifested in the burning and production of ash, and in the settling of the ash, is related to the breathing process in a way akin to the relationship of the silica process to the processes that unfold physically in the head. And if we want to make effective use of the part of the process of ash-formation having its correlate in the rhythmical breathing process, we cannot, of course, introduce it directly into the breath—in the human organism we can never do that—but we must introduce it through the opposite pole, so to speak.

If I sketch it here, this would be the rhythmic breathing process, and this the rhythmic circulatory process (see drawing). In the rhythmic breathing process, plant ashes represent the processes that are effective for our purpose. But we must make the plant-ash process effective in the opposite pole, in the rhythmic circulatory organism, proceeding indirectly by way of the metabolism (see drawing). We must incorporate this plant ash, that is the forces into the circulatory rhythm in order that they may call forth their polar counter-activity in the rhythmic breathing process.

Figure 4

Perceiving these relationships, we come to realize how extremely important they are for an understanding of the human organism. Just as we saw that the process confronting us in silica-formation has something to do with the entire human being, so now—applying this to the process by which plant ash is formed—we gain a mental picture of the middle system of the human being. Once again, this is seen to consist of two members, possessing a rhythm of breathing and a rhythm of circulation. When we focus our attention on the upper part, the rhythm of breathing, we see that the structure of the organs concerned is essentially determined by a process that is the polar opposite of the process revealed to us when plant substance is burned and ash is obtained. To a certain extent a struggle is taking place in the rhythmic process of breathing—a continual struggle against the process of plant-ash formation. But this struggle does not take place without its opposite penetrating the organism and provoking this process in the organism.

As human beings we live on the earth where there are silica processes and limestone processes. We would not be human beings if these processes permeated us. We are human beings through bearing within us the polar opposites of these processes. We are able to oppose the silica-formation process because we bear the opposite pole within us; we are able to oppose the limestone-formation process because we bear its polar opposite within us. It is chiefly owing to our head formation that we bear these poles within us, but the entire organism is also concerned, as I have described it in our breathing process, for example. Through our breathing rhythm we carry on the struggle against the plant-ash process; in ourselves we bear its opposite pole. If we focus our attention on these things it will not appear strange that a blow calls forth a counterblow, to express myself somewhat crudely. It is quite clear that if I intensify the silica-forming process in the organism, the countereffect will be modified; likewise, if I introduce into the organism the product of a combustion process, the ountereffect will be produced.

The important question thus arises of how we are to gain control of this action and reaction. This is what I mean when I am always saying, characterizing it abstractly, that we must first know what the processes are within the human organism, even into the ego, and what the processes are taking place outside the human organism. These processes are differentiated, both within and outside, but they are related to each other as polar opposites. The moment that anything that should be outside my skin, according to its nature, comes to be inside it—or the moment anything acts from outside inward that should not do so (this may happen by means of only a gentle pressure) an inner counter-reaction arises. In that moment I have the task of producing such an inner counter- reaction. For example, if I find that, instead of the normal process opposing silica there is too intense a tendency to this process, I have to regulate this from outside by administering the appropriate substance and thereby inducing the counter-reaction. The counter-reaction will then occur by itself.

This is what enables us gradually to perceive and understand the interaction between the human being and his environment. To be able to gain insight into the different gradations of the ego's influence in the human being, you must realize that the ego, when it wishes to act through the limbs and metabolism, is chiefly assisted by what is contained in the silica-forming process regarded as force, and that in the silica-forming process in the human head the action as substance is strongest. Thus its action as force in the head must assist the ego with diminished intensity. Now if we focus on the relationship of the human ego to the metabolic-limb system, we find the origin of human egoism in this relationship. The sexual system is indeed a part of this system of human egoism. And the ego primarily penetrates the human being with egoism indirectly through the sexual system. If you understand this, you will be able to see that there is a kind of contrast between the way the ego uses silica to work on the human being from the limb system and the way the ego works from the human head by means of silica. One could say that in the head it works without egoism. When this is studied by spiritual scientific investigation, it is possible to see this differentiation.

If I were to represent this remarkable activity schematically, I would have to say the following: Considering the ego as a real element of man's organization, what it does from the limb system by means of silica (see drawing, red) is essentially to encompass the human being, blending everything present in the human being in the fluids into an undifferentiated unity, so that it forms an undifferentiated, uniform whole. Then, in what is really the same process but now regarded in its activity as a force, we find the least intensive silica-forming tendency, and this works in the opposite way (yellow); it differentiates and radiates outward. From below upward the human being is held together and undifferentiated by means of silica. From above downward he is differentiated into separate components. This means that in relation to the human being the forces working organically in the head become differentiated for their work on the individual organs. In a sense they are stimulated by the silica-process belonging exclusively to the head organism to work in the appropriate way in the various organs—heart, liver, and so on. There we encounter the process which, when acting from below upward, mixes everything together in the human being, whereas when it works from above downward its action works to mold separate organs, regulating the organization through the individual organs.

Figure 5

We need to gain a clear conception of the results of these two tendencies in the human being—the blending tendency on the one hand and the tendency to differentiate the various organs on the other (the synthesizing-organizing activity in contrast to the differentiating-organizing activity). If we gain a clear conception of the way these two can act irregularly in a particular person, we will gradually learn to treat a person on the basis of this when something is the matter with him. We will see how to do this in the lectures that follow.

But we must be extraordinarily cautious in our investigations along these lines. For example, what does contemporary natural science do when it investigates the human organism? It says, for example, that the human organism contains silica, fluorine, magnesium, calcium. It states that silica is in the hair, in the blood, in the urine. Let us consider two of these points, that silica is in the hair and in the urine. For materialistic science, it is simply a matter of investigating the hair and finding silica in it and investigating the urine and finding silica there. But the essential thing is not in the least that here or there this or that substance is found. That silica is found in hair is not at all essential; what is important is that it is there in order to be active from there. We have hair for a purpose; there are forces that proceed from our hair back to the organism, very delicate forces. The most delicate forces proceed from the hair back into the organism. But silica is present in urine because it is superfluous. It is not needed and is therefore excreted. It is of no importance whether silica is in the urine, for it is inactive. There we find the silica that should not be within the human organism and that does not have the least significance within the organism.

It is the same when we investigate any substance whatsoever, magnesium, for example. If there were no magnesium in our teeth, they could not be teeth, because in the magnesium process forces are active that play a most important part in building up the teeth. You have learned that from Professor Römer's lecture. Materialistic science, however, tells us that magnesium is also in milk. But the magnesium in milk has no significance. Milk owes its existence as milk to the fact that it is strong enough to eliminate the magnesium that is there. Magnesium as such has no place in milk. Of course, we can find it by analysis, but the milk-forming process can only take place by being able to expel the magnesium forces. We only learn something about this peculiar contrast between the processes at work in building up teeth and in producing milk when we know that magnesium is an essential constituent in the tooth-forming process, belonging to this process dynamically. In the process of milk-production it is like the fifth wheel of a cart and is eliminated.

It is similar with fluorine, for example. We cannot understand the entire process of the development of the teeth without knowing that fluorine is an essential constituent of tooth enamel. It is also present in the urine, but as an excretory process, having no significance there. Fluorine is present in urine because the organism is strong enough to eliminate it since it cannot make use of it.

Merely physical investigation as to whether something or other is somewhere or other determines nothing essential. One must always know whether a substance is justifiably present in a particular part as an active constituent, or whether it is merely there because it has been thrown out. This is the essential aspect, and it is essential for us to acquire concepts like these if we are to understand the human being—and other organic beings—in conditions of health or illness.

In order to speak more popularly, of course, it is necessary to do without the help of these concepts, because in our age there is so little general cultivation of finer, more differentiated concepts. One is therefore compelled to speak more in abstractions, which then are not comprehensible. In combatting materialism, one is very frequently not comprehensible. We need to descend into those domains that the scientist is supposed to understand, and where he has facts before him that he can investigate; then we are brought by spiritual science to be able to show that ideas deriving from analyzing a substance by means of physical-chemical science and saying: “This and this are in that and that,” can lead to nothing but errors.

This is what I wished to present to you today as an introduction. We will continue our studies tomorrow.